James V. Shuls

On December 1, members of the Missouri General Assembly may begin prefiling legislation for consideration in the upcoming legislative session, which begins January 3, 2018. Not surprisingly, it looks like a bill will be put forward to increase the state’s minimum wage. As Missourinet reports, State Rep. Brandon Ellington (D) plans to offer such a bill. When Rep. Ellington was asked how he’d respond to critics of the bill, he responds, “I would tell them to look at states like Washington D.C., where the minimum wage is $12 an hour or Seattle, where the minimum is to be up to $12 an hour…Or any of the other states that have increased their minimum wage that has not seen an exodus of corporations and companies.”

 Let’s do just what Rep. Ellington has suggested. Let’s look at the evidence from these places. Ellington is correct in saying there hasn’t been an exodus of “corporations or companies,” but there have been some negative outcomes.

 Washington D.C.

 D.C. passed the “Fair Shot Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2016.” The amendment increases the district’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020 and then sets annual increases that are pegged to changes in the Consumer Price Index. Earlier this year, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer for the D.C. mayor’s office released a study that estimated the impact this will have on the city, and the findings aren’t anything to be bullish about.

 As one would expect, wages will increase. By 2021, the study’s authors estimate that “the average resident will gain roughly $5,100 more (20 percent higher) in wages as of 2021, but approximately 2 percent of impacted residents will experience job loss; this job loss estimate increases to about 3.4 percent by 2026.” Additionally, the study found that “average citywide prices will increase by roughly 0.2 percent and businesses will experience a 2.3 percent average reduction in profits as a result of this policy.”


The Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance went into effect in 2015. From 2015 to 2016, the minimum wage increased from $9.47 to $13. This is roughly a 37 percent increase in a short amount of time. The ordinance has different provisions for different types of employers, but will gradually increase the minimum wage to $15. Earlier this year, a team of researchers from the University of Washington released a paper on the impact thus far. When the minimum wage went up, employers did what we would expect them to do; they reduced the hours of employees. The researchers suggest the increased minimum wage resulted in a reduction of 3.5 million working hours per calendar quarter. Low-wage jobs (jobs paying under $19 per hour) went down 6.8 percent.

 As economist David Neumark noted in his 2012 policy study for the Show-Me Institute, “Should Missouri Raise its Minimum Wage?,” there are clear tradeoffs with this policy proposal. Raising the minimum wage increases the wages for a select portion of the population: those earning roughly minimum wage who manage to not have their hours cut (or their jobs eliminated altogether). This increase comes at the expense of the low-skilled workers who are not able to enter the labor market or lose their jobs. This issue is particularly concerning in our border cities, where higher pay may attract people from neighboring suburbs in other states. As these individuals enter the job market, they may take jobs away from low-skill Missourians living in Saint Louis and Kansas City.

 The real question for Missouri lawmakers is: Do you want to increase unemployment for some Missourians to provide others with higher wages? 


About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls
Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.